The Catholic Diocese of Kansas City St. Joseph

Catholic Diocese of Kansas City St. Joseph

The Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph is a relatively small Midwestern diocese. Originally, erected as the Diocese of Kansas City in 1880, it was joined with the territory of St. Joseph in 1956. It is part of the ecclesiastical province of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Its present bishop is Robert W. Finn who was ordained bishop as coadjutor of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in 2004. Coadjutor means that Finn had the right to succeed the bishop at the time Raymond Boland.

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Just a month prior to his ordination as a bishop, Finn became a member of the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross, which is associated with Opus Dei, widely considered an arch-conservative and highly

In August 2008, the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph agreed to settle sex abuse lawsuits filed against it for $10 million. The settlement involved 40 survivors and 12 priests, including the former Bishop Joseph Hart. In addition to the monetary settlement, the resolution of the sex abuse lawsuit included a provision that included mandatory reporting of anyone suspected of sexually abusing a minor.
Generally, the 2008 priest abuse settlement was hailed as positive step for a diocese that had known its share of scandals. At the time, Bishop Finn’s seeming willingness to provide transparency in working with survivors of sexual abuse was viewed as a positive step that would lead to change in the diocese.

All of that changed this past May when a priest of the diocese was arrested for possession of computer pornography. Fr. Shawn Ratigan was arrested in May 2011 after police determined that images on his personal computer depicted young children, mostly young girls, in sexually suggestive situations.

Days after Ratigan’s arrest, news began to trickle out that the Diocese had known about the computer pornography for five months prior to the arrest. In December 2010 a computer technician was working on Fr. Ratigan’s personal computer and found images of young girls on the hard drive. He reported this to the Diocese and Monsignor Robert Murphy who called a police officer and described the photos. The officer told Murphy that what had been described to him didn’t appear to constitute pornography. Ratigan was then summoned to the diocesan headquarters. He was told to stay away from children and was ordered to seek professional help. In the ensuing months, Ratigan ignored the diocesan directive and continued to have contact with children, including taking photographs of young children, some of which were “up skirt” shots of young girls.

As the Ratigan case unfolded in the press, more details began to emerge. It was revealed that a year prior to Ratigan’s arrest, a Catholic school prinicipal had written a warning letter to Bishop Finn concerning the behavior of Ratigan. When confronted with the letter, Finn claimed he had received it but hadn’t read the letter. It was also revealed that in spite of the 2008 sex abuse lawsuit agreement, Finn had never disclosed the issues with Ratigan to law enforcement or his own diocesan review board. The review board, set up to handle the investigations of active priests accused of sexual misconduct with children, was never notified or asked to investigate the Ratigan matter. After intense media scrutiny, Finn publicly apologized for his shortcomings and appointed an independent investigator to determine the nature and extent of the diocesan failings in the Ratigan investigation.

Finally, in October 2011 a grand jury was convened and indicted both Bishop Finn and the diocese on misdemeanor criminal charges of failing to report child abuse. In response to the indictment, Bishop Finn declared his innocence and claimed he didn’t know the extent or the seriousness of the allegations lodged against Fr. Ratigan. In light of the principal’s letter given to him a year earlier, such a claim is doubtful at best. Finn either chose to not read the letter in order to claim plausible deniability later or he chose to ignore the content of the letter. In either case, Finn failed to protect children. As in other cases around the country and around the world, Bishop Finn chose to insulate the institution of the church rather than protect children. Finn, as a conservative bishop, chose to follow the path trod by Cardinals Law, Mahony, Bevilacqua, and Rigali in putting the interests of the church above ordinary citizens. As a member of the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross, perhaps he was counseled to follow the cardinals’ lead in such situations. After all, no priest or bishop has ever been promoted after siding with the victims of sexual abuse. Finn is a smart man who knows how the church operates. He has seen people like Bernard Law and Justin Rigali receive an ecclesiastical “slap on the wrist” for failing to stop sexual abuse. He’s also seen what happens to a bishop when he tries to speak up and do the right thing. One need only look at the example of Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, himself a survivor of sexual abuse who has courageously taken a stand against the church’s cover-up of clerical sex abuse. Gumbleton was forced to resign as bishop and had his parish taken away from him in Detroit as a result. Gumbleton remains a priest and a bishop but has been told in no uncertain terms by his fellow bishops that he is “persona non grata” for committing the unforgiveable sin of speaking out and condemning sex abuse and the bishops’ complicity in hiding it from the general public.

Bishop Finn remains the Bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph and there’s no reason to think he’ll be asked to step aside by Rome. In the church’s view, he is a loyal son of the church and has been faithful in protecting the institution. While a criminal conviction may lead to his resignation, more than likely his ecclesiastical “omerta” will be rewarded in much the same was as Bernie Law and Justin Rigali.


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